I found this print in the gift shop of an historic church in Albuquerque several years ago. I wasn’t going to buy it. I didn’t need it, I told myself. We couldn’t afford to buy a lot of trinkets on this vacation. I kept circling back to it in the shop. As testament to my strength, I left the shop.
Later, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This image has a spiritual power that beguiles and enchants me. We later came back to the shop for the express purpose of purchasing this print.
It is not lost on me that this image of Jesus shocks our Puritan roots, our Anglo prudishness, and our deeply ingrained thinking that the body and anything remotely sexual is inherently immoral.
The power of this image by New Mexico artist Diego Gabriel Gonzales is not the result of American oversexualization and titillation. It does not draw me in because breasts are sexual.
The power of this image is in the humanity of Jesus. What draws me in is THAT baby!
Jesus had a body like each of us have a body. He had a mother who nursed him at her breast. He undoubtedly cried, whimpered, got the occasional sniffle, and needed his diaper changed. He probably had to be burped from time to time. He may even have spit up once or twice on Joseph’s shoulder.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was human.
In the ancient world, there was a deep, cavernous divide between the spirit and the physical worlds. In greek thought — which heavily influenced western thinking — a god could not be human. A god by definition is spirit and cannot be incarnate, cannot be physical.
And, yet, we have Jesus.
There are those who clung so desperately to this idea of spirit-good, body-bad that they came up with wild theories about how the divine Jesus could appear — appear being the operative word — appear to be human. Some even came up with an invasion of the body snatchers theory in which God simply inhabited someone else’s human body.
And we still have this greek idea within our culture and too often within our faith. There’s a reason that many traditional theologians and scholars got totally freaked out recently over a scrap of parchment that seemed to imply that Jesus had a wife. To be married would have been to be physical with another human being. And we just can’t abide that the divine Jesus is also the human Jesus.
We are afraid of an angry Jesus, a sobbing Jesus, a laughing Jesus, a Jesus who is tempted to swear when he stubs his toe, and, yes, we’re afraid of a Jesus with sexual urges.
I suggest we’re afraid of all these things because we fear them in ourselves, because we cannot control them in ourselves. We are uncomfortable with a fully human savior because while we’re human, we have neglected the love, the divine image of God within us. We too often fail to,
…love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength.” (Mark 12: 30 NRSV)
We equate our physicality as separate from our spirituality because we can’t reconcile the two. We’re trapped by the greek thinking that spirit is good and body is bad. So, if we can’t be human and spiritual, we find it difficult to grasp that Jesus could.
And yet he did.
We underestimate the One who was born to a human mother, who nursed at her breast, skinned his knees, had conflict with other boys, and still grew up to be the Lord and savior of the world.
As an adult, Jesus was asked by a scribe, what is the greatest commandment? In typical Jewish fashion the faithful asked one another questions to help them to process and figure out the meanings of the scriptures. It’s not unlike what we do in our adult Sunday School class when we go back and forth about different aspects of the Bible passages we’re discussing.
In this case, the scribe was raising the question about what the unifying theme or principle of the scriptures are. Scholar Bonnie Thurston suggests that the question is more accurately put: “What is the one, fundamental thing, the building block or cornerstone, on which all the rest of the law rests?” (Thurston, Preaching Mark, p. 138)
And so when Jesus answers, he is telling us the core of our faith. The core of what it means to be a good Jew or a good Christian. He’s telling us not only that we must love God but about God’s nature — one — and about how to love God.
Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: Lord our God, the Lord is one; You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30 NRSV)
We’re called to love God with our whole selves but…
But how can we love God with our whole selves when we reject an integral part of who we are? How can we love God if we reject our physicality as somehow inherently bad? Consider, Genesis 1:27 in which the biblical witness tells us that,
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 NRSV)
The creator God made us as physical and spiritual beings. Created in the Image of God, my body is integral to who I am no less than my spirituality. We experience life through and from our bodies. Human physicality and spirituality are intertwined just as Jesus’ humanity and divinity were intertwined.
And so when we turn to love God, to follow the commandment that permeates all of the Bible and the whole of our faith, Jesus — quoting and interpreting Deuteronomy 6:1-9 for us — tells us that we must do so with our whole selves.
With Our hearts.
With Our souls.
With Our minds.
With Our strength.
Ah, but Jesus goes beyond the scribe’s question in our passage today. Jesus gives him a bonus answer,
The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12: 31 NRSV)
Commandment. Not commandments but commandment. I love how Jesus refers to two commandments here and calls them one. The implication is that you cannot follow one and not the other. It is impossible to love god with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength in isolation. We are created as communal creatures. We depend upon the pack. We need one another for survival. And so to love God is to love one another. To love one another is to love God.
To love God is to hurt when our community hurts. When the hopes of our kids are dashed by a loss at volleyball, we hurt because we love them. Likewise we ache when members of our community must give up independent living or face cancer. We desire the best for them. We love one another.
What happens to one of us, happens to all of us. Created in the image of God, we — like God — are one. We are physical and spiritual.
We are Andre and Jerry. We are Karsen and Jean. We are Chuck, who is down under, and Yvonne who is in Florida awaiting back surgery. We are Stacy, Lily, and Jason.
Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: Lord our God, the Lord is one (Mark 12:29 NRSV)
But when we love God with all our hearts, all our soul, all our minds, and all our strength we are more than just Ione or Morrow county.
We are one humanity. We feel the pain of our kindred in New Jersey, on Staten Island, in West Virginia, and in lower Manhattan. We ache for the woman whose two children were snatched from her arms by raging, angry waters!
We love our neighbors as ourselves.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12:29-31 NRSV)
Is this image shocking to our sensibilities, especially in church? Perhaps.
Consistent with the gospels? Absolutely.
Of course, Mary nursed Jesus because Jesus was not just fully divine, he was fully human and because she loved God with all her heart, and with all her mind, and with all her strength, she gave birth to a son, she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and loved him. She loved with her body to provide a necessity of life to the Galilean who became the One…
…the One who would be taunted, tortured, and killed but also overcome death to rise on the third day.
That, my friends, is Good News! Amen.
I preached this sermon at the Ione Community Church on Sunday, November 4, 2012.